Occasionally, cameras capture amazing things and events. Above is a photo of the rarely seen air snakes. The group seen in the image was attracted to light from the streetlamp. Such gatherings only occur during mating season when males compete in flight for mates. Long ago reptiles dominated the sky. In the distant Cretaceous Period, pterosaurs ruled the air long before the age of birds we humans take for granted. Now, air snakes have few flying contemporaries among modern reptile species.
Drawing a further distinction, air snakes are not truly snakes. They belong to the same group that includes “slow worms.” They are all species of legless lizards. Slow worms are just that: slow. They are one form these limbless reptiles that live in the ground just as one of their prey items, the true earthworm. Slow worms are almost the exact opposite of their cousin air snakes who are extremely swift. Many groups of lizards have lost their limbs through separate evolutionary paths. Only the air snake family, Aeroidae, has evolved the ability to fly, albeit for short periods.
Air snake flight is powered by the rapidly contraction of specialized muscles that launch the animal into the air and then continue the rapid undulations of its flight scales to keep it aloft. Highly evolved, filament-like scales work in concert with lengthened, longitudinal scales that act as a narrow but effective airfoil. (An aeronautical start-up is developing a new series of coiled drone prototypes based on this unique reptile’s flight method.) The ability to contract its muscles so quickly means it is also a blur on land as in the air. Thus, the fast animals are barely captured by the human eye when darting behind a boulder or in flight.
Mid-summer is the mating period of Aeroidae species. Males launch themselves during a full moon or at bright lights in the remote areas where the rare creature is most likely spotted. Sightings only occur when observers are keeping watch for the creatures. Otherwise, the swift aerial lizards may be confused with other night flyers if glimpsed at all. The lizards themselves take great notice of their flights. Females select mating partners from the males with the greatest ability to remain aloft. The next generation assures continued, if rare, encounters with these elusive and extraordinary creatures.
It has been suggested that air snakes are actually just moths photographed at an exposure speed too slow to capture the moths at one point in flight. This would cause the resulting photo of fast-flying moths to appear much like an undulating ribbon or “snake” in the air. If this is true (and it is) then one wonders what other interesting images are produced using just simple photographic techniques, especially when coupled to the power of suggestion. Context being everything, it’s interesting to consider what people might see if they are not given a context when looking at an image. A fictitious context might produce a false conclusion. Hopefully, the fictional context and audience are willingly participating in the fun. Such as when you visit this site. Knowing there is a wink to the fantastic allows writer and reader to smile in concert. If the material is purported to be true yet the content known to be false, then we have another species called the hoax. Unfortunately, those are far more numerous than flying lizards. Critical thinking can cause a reexamination of an image or an idea, and then the fresh perspective might uncoil the truth.
I’m sure you’re aware of Sea Snugs, Alley Mites, and talking Spiders. Feel free to believe in them in the context of entertainment. They appreciate it. I’m sure the great minds of Reginald C. Staplethorpe and Hhnark! would agree that you should never let an open mind become a trap door. Occasionally, cameras capture amazing things and events. Sometimes they capture something well known that gets tweaked beyond the threshold of fact. At times, the tweak is not to the images, but the words flying around it. Keep the grains of salt at hand. Some things presented as reality need electrolytes.
Flying saucers orbit a tethered mother ship in deep space. Or, moths see the light…